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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Feb 26, 2012

In a world of outsized personalities and vanity projects, the SFJAZZ Collective stands as a truly unique gathering of musicians. Every member of the Collective is a bandleader in his or her own right, and yet they check their egos at the door, so to speak, and enjoying working together to make memorable music.

Launched in 2004 by SFJAZZ—the West Coast’s largest nonprofit jazz institution and the presenter of the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival—the Collective has become one of the most exciting and acclaimed groups on the jazz scene. With a membership that changes from season to season, and a repertoire that focuses each year on a different legendary composer, along and new works by its members, it is a band worth seeing again and again.

The 2012 edition of the SFJAZZ Collective launches their Spring Tour at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center on Thursday, March 1, touring behind their latest CD, featuring the music of Stevie Wonder. Taking the bandstand in Amherst will be eight award-winning musicians -  Edward Simon (piano), Eric Harland (drums), Matt Penman (bass), Stefon Harris (vibes), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), and Antonio Hart (alto saxophone).

Recorded during a five night run last year at The Jazz Standard in New York, the Collective’s three CD album features eight Wonder tunes arranged by members of the Collective, as well as eight original compositions. “We’re something like a small big band, or maybe a large ensemble”, said Edward Simon. “It’s such a pleasure being able to play with people of this caliber, and work at this level.”

Simon said he found it liberating to not be in charge of musical proceedings or decisions. “We all lead when we perform our respective compositions or arrangements, but otherwise it’s a constant learning experience from one another.”  Simon contributed an original composition inspired by his children “Young and Playful,” as well as an arrangement of “My Cherie Amour” to the band.

Stevie Wonder is the first non-jazz composer the SFJAZZ Collective has chosen to feature, having previously performed and recorded the works of Ornette Coleman (2004), John Coltrane (2005), Herbie Hancock (2006), Thelonious Monk (2007), Wayne Shorter (2008), McCoy Tyner (2009) and Horace Silver (2010). Simon said that the 2012-13 season will feature the music of Chick Corea, a decision about which he is particularly excited. “He’s a major influence on my playing”, he said, “His repertoire will give us a whole new level of varying pieces to perform.”

Simon indicated that Wonder was chosen by a democratic process. “The decision was made before I joined the group, but I understand that nominations are made by the members, as to whose music they might like to perform. Then there is a vote. Most of us have a strong connection to Stevie Wonder. Robin Eubanks played with him, and Stefon Harris is a huge fan. So it wasn’t too surprising when the choice was made.”

Jazz fans should not worry about the Collective “selling out”, though. “Make no mistake about it, these are jazz arrangements and performances.” said Simon, “By choosing Stevie’s music we get more non-jazz fans interested in the Collective, which is always a good thing.”

Simon is coming off a memorable 2011. A 2010 Guggenheim Fellow, he spent last spring in residency at the MacDowell Colony, the recipient of a Fellowship given annually to artists of exceptional talent, providing time, space and an inspiring environment in which to do creative work.  Edward used his time to compose Improvisational Episodes, for Piano and String Orchestra, which he hopes to record in the future.

Born in the small coastal town of Cardón, Venezuela,  Simon arrived on the New York jazz scene in 1989, where his reputation as versatile player caught the ear of noted saxophonist Greg Osby, who Simon credits as a mentor. He has put in time as a member of Bobby Watson’s influential group Horizon as well as the Terence Blanchard Group, before concentrating on work as a leader. He alternates between piano trio recordings and work with the quartet Afinidad, which he co-founded with saxophonist/composer David Binney, which includes bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Afinidad focuses on eclectic contemporary American music with a focus on jazz, reflecting a wide range of musical influences such as Pop, Brazilian, Latin American and contemporary classical music.

Simon will tour Europe this summer with his latest trio, which includes drummer Adam Cruz and bassist Joe Martin This autumn he will reunite with what he termed his “All-Star Trio” of John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums) , to support the release of their live album.  

Podcast 261 features the music of the SFJAZZ Collective and Simon, including:

SFJAZZ Collective - "My Cherie Amour" from SFJAZZ Collective Plays the Music of Stevie Wonder and New Compositions. Simon decided to arrange this familiar Wonder song "because it really called out to me." It features Miguel Zenon on sax, and strong solos from Simon and vibes master Stefon Harris.

SFJAZZ Collective - "Young and Playful" from SFJAZZ Collective Plays the Music of Stevie Wonder and New Compositions. A Simon original, dedicated to his children Goren and Kira. Again, its the interplay between Simon and Harris that makes the song shine.

Edward Simon - "Abiding Unicity" from Unicity. The “All-Star Trio” of John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums) and Simon on piano recorded some of their finest moments on this 2006 release.

John Patitucci - "Love Eternal" from Songs, Stories & Spirituals. I first became aware of Simon when he conibuted to this moving album in 2003. It featured the trio of Simon, Patitucci and Blade as the rhythm section, aided by Tim Ries on flute and a number of string players,including Sachi Patituccion cello.

SFJAZZ Collective - "Do I Do" from SFJAZZ Collective Plays the Music of Stevie Wonder and New Compositions. Eric Harland arranged this Wonder song, with Avisahi Cohen filling in where Dizzy Gillespie originally layed down the trumpet solos.

The SFJazz Collective performs Thursday, Mar 1 7:30pm at UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA Reserved seating- $35, $30, $15, Tickets may be obtained by calling Fine Arts Center Box Office at 545-2511 , at the box office or online. Sponsored by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association and New England Public Radio.